how-to-plan-an-orgy-in-a-small-town
Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival

A mildly amusing trifle that isn't nearly as naughty as its title might indicate.

Despite a generous sprinkling of anatomical references — many more verbal than visual — and a few scenes that play like parodies of activity in Cinemax-ready softcore porn, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town” emerges as surprisingly tame fluff, a modestly amusing trifle scarcely saucier than those wink-wink naughty farces that were staples of the ’70s dinner-theater circuit. Theatrical prospects for this Canadian-produced comedy are iffy at best, and not just because, much like the event described in the title, it’s a diversion that even the avidly curious likely would enjoy most comfortably in their privacy of their homes.

Years after being slut-shamed by mean girls who interrupted her failed attempt to discard her virginity, sex columnist Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite) reluctantly returns to her hometown of Beaver’s Ridge for the funeral of her estranged mother. Cassie isn’t exactly bereaved — her mom, the author of a successful series of children’s novels, was even more judgmental than the aforementioned mean girls — but she’s downright heartbroken when she learns she won’t be receiving a hefty inheritance.

Cassie had been counting on the cash to repay a large advance she received from a publisher eager for a book-length version of her salacious magazine essays. Unfortunately, Cassie’s sex columns have been mostly fiction, detailing experiences that were not merely exaggerated, but entirely invented.

On the other hand, even notoriety based on dishonesty can come in handy sometimes. When Cassie is confronted by former childhood acquaintances who resent her depicting them as uptight yokels in her columns, she challenges them to demonstrate their lack of inhibitions. One thing leads to another, an evening of group-sex misbehavior is proposed, and Cassie finds herself pressed into service as a nonparticipating activities director. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. And besides, Cassie figures she can use the close encounters as fodder for a book titled — get ready for it — “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.”

Not at all surprisingly, things don’t go according to plan. Evidencing varying degrees of enthusiasm and embarrassment, desperation and discomfort, the participants — including grown-up mean girl Heather (Lauren Lee Smith), who has ulterior motives for seeking multiple sex partners; Adam (Ennis Esmer), Cassie’s former sweetheart, now improbably married to Heather; Bruce (Mark O’Brien), an over-eager would-be sexual buccaneer; Chester (Jonas Chernick), a music-store owner who may be too sweet-natured and quick-triggered for his own good; and Polly (Tommie-Amber Pirie), a store clerk who seems to be channeling a “Reality Bites”-era Janeane Garofalo  — require more than one get-together before they can really get down.

For all its risque jokes and broadly played sight gags involving improvised lubricants, premature ejaculation and cunnilingus marathons, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town” has the squishy-soft heart of a routine romantic comedy. Writer-director Jeremy Lalonde takes care to provide some degree of satisfaction for each of his main characters — including a nerdy video gamer (Kristian Bruun) and a cynical sexpot (Katharine Isabelle) — but places his greatest emphasis on reuniting long-separated soul mates. And the, ahem, climax of the film is the most exuberantly cheery instance of group streaking in recent memory.

The performances are wildly uneven, suggesting that Lalonde rarely advised his players to take it down a notch. As a result, a few of the sporadic “serious” moments feel forced, if not downright fraudulent. But James McGowan manages to steal every scene that isn’t bolted to the floor with equal measures of sly understatement and wanton lewdness as Spencer, the most relaxed and randy of the orgy guests. You can’t help suspecting this character is a veteran of several similar events. And his stamina is impressive: He gives a licking, but keeps on ticking.

Production values are, in sharp contrast to some of the other male guests, consistently adequate.

Film Review: 'How To Plan an Orgy in a Small Town'

Reviewed online, Houston, Jan. 22, 2016. (In Slamdance Film Festival — Beyond.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production

(Canada) A Neophyte Prods. production in association with Gyro Park Prods. Produced by Jordan Walker. Chris Bennett. Executive producers, Avi Federgreen, Ryan Goldhar, Jeremy Lalonde, Ennis Esmer, Jewel Staite.

Crew

Directed, written, edited by Jeremy Lalonde. Camera (color), D. Gregor Hagey; music, Jeff Toyne; music supervisor, Eli Klein; production designer, Danielle Dahota; art director, Matt Bianchi; costume designer, Marissa Schwartz; assistant director, Charles Smith; casting, Jenny Lewis, Sara Kay.

With

Jewel Staite, Ennis Esmer, Lauren Lee Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Mark O’Brien, Jonas Chernick, Tommie-Amber Pirie, James McGowan, Kristian Bruun, Gugun Deep Singh, Natalie Brown, Lauren Holly, Zoe Cleland.

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